By Brian Kalchik @RantsportsBrian on June 8, 2014
The BYU Cougars have always been good in the running game and on defense, but recently, the passing game hasn't been up to par. In wins, BYU averaged over 300 rushing yards. But in losses, they tallied just under 200 yards per game on the ground. If quarterback Taysom Hill can make some plays with his arm rather than his legs, the Cougars can be even more explosive in 2014.
Duke had a Cinderella season last year, but down the stretch, when it mattered most, the defense imploded. In two losses against Florida State and Texas A&M, the Blue Devils defense gave up 97 points and over 1,000 yards combined. When the competition got tougher and tougher, the defense wilted down the stretch. It will once again be a struggle as the Blue Devils lose their top pass rusher in Kenny Anunike and their top DB in Ross Cockrell.
The North Carolina Tar Heels had a good second half to their 2013 season, but not because of their run defense. After starting 1-5, the Tar Heels finished 7-6 after an impressive bowl win over Cincinnati. For the run defense, the Tar Heels gave up over 200 yards seven times, and four of those games were losses. The Tar Heels will have to improve their run defense this year without Kareem Martin, who went to the NFL.
The Marshall Thundering Herd are a sleeper pick to be a cinderella team this year, but without an improved run defense, the Herd will continue to be in the middle of the pack. Five times last year, the Herd gave up more than 200 yards rushing in a game, losing three of those games. Marshall has everything else to make a run this year, but the front seven needs to improve big time from last year to this year.
For the Clemson Tigers, they will have to replace not just one of their most productive quarterbacks in program history in Tajh Boyd, but they will also have to replace their top-two receivers from a year ago in Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. Clemson will find a way to reload at both positions this year, but until it is proven on the field, the passing game is the Tigers' biggest weakness.
Kansas State had another solid year in 2013, going 8-5 with what can be described as a group of over-achievers. This year will be different, especially now that the Wildcats will have to replace seven starters, including star safety Ty Zimmerman. Leading tackler Blake Slaughter is also gone, and with the Wildcats playing Auburn early in the season, the Wildcats will have to find answers and find them fast.
Ole Miss has the talent on defense and the skill positions on offense to be a great team, but quarterback Bo Wallace is the question mark. Wallace looked good at times last year, but his mistakes often led directly to losses. Seven of his 10 interceptions came in losses. If Ole Miss wants to breakthrough and become a top-level SEC team, Wallace will have to cut down on his mistakes or else the Rebels will stay in SEC mediocrity.
Baylor's offense will always put up plenty of points each game, but the Bears have been unable to get key defensive stops in recent years. Players like Ahmad Dixon, Sam Holl, Eddie Lackey and several others are now gone. All of them have been leading the Baylor defense for several seasons. If Baylor can't be a balanced team in 2014, the Bears will once again be a middle-of-the-road contender in the Big-12.
Wisconsin once again boasted one of the most productive rushing offenses in college football last year, ranking No. 8 in the nation with 283.8 rushing yards per game. The only question on offense, however, is the play of Joel Stave at quarterback. Stave threw for just under 3,000 yards passing last year and had 13 interceptions. If Wisconsin wants to be national title contender, Stave must make more plays with his arm.
One of South Carolina's strengths last year was its pass rush. Everything started up front with players like Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton all gone to the NFL. The Gamecocks defense held opponents under 200 passing yards in seven games, mostly because of the pass rush from Clowney, Quarles and Sutton. If the Gamecocks want to compete for a national championship, the defensive line will have to replace three great players.
Missouri was one of the surprise teams of the 2013 season, winning the SEC East title. The Tigers won't sneak up on anyone in 2014 and they'll have to do it without several of their best defenders. Kony Ealy and Michael Sam are gone from the defensive line, Andrew Wilson is gone at linebacker and E.J. Gaines is a key departure from the secondary. Missouri will have to rebuild on defense if they want to repeat their success from 2013.
In what turned out to be a controversy-filled season, the USC Trojans ended on a high note. But even after a bowl win over Fresno State and a new coaching staff, the passing game has to be addressed. Aside from the bowl game, USC failed to throw for 300 yards in any game last season. Things won't get easier, however, without both Marqise Lee and Xavier Grimble, two great pass catchers. By the way, USC goes to Stanford in Week 2.
UCLA was a great team last year but fell just a bit short of contention for the Pac-12 title. With the return of Brett Hundley, hopes are high for the Bruins in 2014. However, the defense could be in question. Several key players, including Anthony Barr, Cassius Marsh and Jordan Zumwalt, are gone from the defense. If replacements aren't able to fill the gaps, the Bruins will be stuck once again in the middle of the Pac-12.
Michigan State had a great defense last year, but in 2014, a lot of new faces will be replacing some well-established players. Never is that more evident than at linebacker. Not only are Max Bullough and Denicos Allen both gone, but Kyler Ellsworth, who replaced Bullough in the Rose Bowl game, is also gone too. Taiwan Jones is the only starter coming back, but if MSU can't re-load quickly, the Spartans won't have another cinderella season.
Which Trevor Knight will show up? The Knight who starred in the Sugar Bowl could certainly have the Sooners in the College Football Playoff. But the banged-up and inconsistent Knight that played most of the 2013 regular season could produce another mediocre season. The Sooners will go whichever way Knight goes, and if he doesn't pan out, another Big-12 team will be vying for a national championship.
Braxton Miller and the talent around him at the skill positions will make Ohio State a contender in the Big Ten, but the offensive line is a serious question mark. The Buckeyes will not only have to replace four starters up front, but the team's top two running backs in Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall. The Buckeyes have everything else to contend for a title, but the offensive line will determine if the Buckeyes will take a step back in 2014.
For the past few years, AJ McCarron has been a constant at quarterback for Alabama. Now, Alabama will have to replace McCarron. The question is, who will replace him? Will it be senior Blake Sims, Florida State transfer Jacob Coker or young players like David Cornwell or Cooper Bateman? Whichever player wins the battle will have to continue the winning ways set by McCarron previously and help the Crimson Tide get back to the title game.
Oregon returns almost its entire offense from last year, including Heisman-Trophy hopeful Marcus Mariota at quarterback. That will leave the Ducks with one question—and that is their run defense. In losses to Stanford and Arizona, the Ducks were gashed for over 250 yards in each game. Just like every other year, if the Ducks can't stop the run, the Ducks can kiss their national championship hopes goodbye.
November 29, 2015 by Tire Rack
The College Football Playoff picture is finally looking clear. Read More
November 29, 2015 by Trevor Lowry
Unfortunately for Christian McCaffrey, other Heisman contenders had monster performances this weekend. Read More
November 29, 2015 by Geoffrey Knox
LSU doesn't seem to realize how good they've had it. Football can sometimes be like life, though, and you never know what you have until it's gone. Same goes with coach Les Miles. Read More
November 29, 2015 by Jason Fletcher
With Frank Beamer retiring, Virginia Tech has reportedly decided on Justin Fuente to be the next head coach of the university's football team. Read More
With the expectation that Les Miles is coaching his last game at LSU today, here's a list of five potential head coaching gigs for the Tigers' head coach. Read More
November 28, 2015 by Jason Shawley
Jake Rudock's first few games in the maize and blue were poor statistically, but a strong second half had the Wolverines in contention until the final weekend. Read More
Jabrill Peppers has been a young standout both offensively and defensively for Michigan, making him a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award. Read More
Nebraska's season hasn't gone the way anyone expected in Mike Riley's first year, and it will end without a postseason berth thanks to four pics from Tommy Armstrong Jr. in the finale. Read More